Saturday, July 31, 2010

in Transit again!

Just wanted to post some photos --- I got a surprise when the students from Svay Pak came to the airport to say goodbye....more tears but good tears! They began to sing and worship the Lord. How good it is when brothers and sisters dwell in unity, it is like dew flowing from Aaron's beard, and where there is unity the Lord commands a blessing! (psalm 133-- I think)

Friday, July 30, 2010

See You When You See Me

There is a Cambodian phrase that the students say to me all the time 'see you when you see me'---they often say it when I am leaving Svay Pak at the end of the day. Well today was my last day in Svay Pak ---at least for this year. As one of Chantha's students said to me 'your 2 months were like 2 minutes here'---she was right. I don't know where the time went, it flew way too fast for me but then again time flies when you are having fun!Tomorrow morning I leave to head back to Canada filled with many rich memories and blessings from the Lord. Yet as I leave Cambodia this time round, my heart it is filled with mixed emotions. I am sad to leave the wonderful friends in Svay Pak who have become my Cambodian family. Today I said to them that of all the trips I have made to Cambodia over these past 10 years, this one was the best because of them. I saw Jesus in CHantha's students. In the way in which they served one another and all who passed through the doors of The Sanctuary. I saw Jesus in the kids who daily showered me with His love by their hugs and by their smiles. I saw Jesus in the faces of old and the young who came to the medical clinic. I saw Jesus in the least of these and it was a joyous sight!
Svay Pak is a place that grows on you. It's hard to imagine a dusty town that used to be a modern day Sodom and Gomorroah can get under your skin but it does because there the Light of Christ is no longer a pocket in the darkness but it is becoming brighter each day. Here we have the opportunity each day to be involved in such a radical ministry, one that involves a constant battle, a battle for lost souls, a battle against injustice, a battle against the demonic forces that seek to oppress both children and adults. This is not a battle for the faint hearted but God has continuously showed us that the battle is His. We are simply called to persevere knowing that we are not laboring in vain when we labor for the Lord because ultimately we stand on the side of victory. When I think of Svay Pak, I see the growing army He is building there---Pastor Chantha, Bunthan, Ratanak, Don & Bridget Brewster, the growing number of students (28) that are being discipled, the 150 plus children at the Kids Klub, the 400 plus congregation. This is the Lord's Army made up of ordinary people who are willing to trust an extraordinary God to do the impossible in their community. He is, He can and He will!

Can anything good come out of Svay Pak? That same question was asked some 2000 years ago when people said 'can anything good come out of Nazareth?' Yes and we are seeing the first fruits of the 'good' thing that God has started and what the Lord starts He promises to complete. And so as I leave Svay Pak this year, I am excited and filled with much hope for the ongoing fruit that will spring forth despite the darkness. God is at work and His plans will not be thwarted as you and I pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done in a place where He has clearly taken up residence!

Thank you all for all your prayers, your support and your words of encouragement. Because you have stood in the gap, seeds of love, seeds of hope and seeds of joy have been planted for eternity in this little village called Svay Pak!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Day To Remember

Helen Sworn from Chab Dai
Today was another full day of activities as I met Helen Sworn a Ratanak partner that overseas Chab Dai at 7:15am for a quick breakfast before visiting the Chab Dai offices and passing out some Ratanak t-shirts to the staff. For those of you not familiar with Chab Dai, this is a coalition of 50 Christian NGOs that seek to end child sex trafficking in Cambodia. Ratanak funds the church training and prevention program and it was neat to see how much the Khmer research section of the Chab Dai library has expanded. Helen recently has moved into an advisory role after passing on the leadership of Chab Dai Cambodia to Yeng, a Cambodian national. I spent some time praying for both of them as its exciting to see Cambodians take on greater leadership roles.

After Chab Dai, I headed over to the Newsong centre to meet up with Pastor CHantha and Bunthan who were having some meetings there. It was nice to see some of the girls again as they were on a break. One of the little ones was so sweet that she gave me a small bundle of flower petals as she was heading back in class. Some of the others who often come to help out at the Kids club in Svay Pak came over to give me hugs and to say goodbye. I'm always so amazed at the girls here. Despite all the abuse they have gone through, they have the ability to still give love in such a tender way.
Little baby Neang Rua

We headed off to Biek Chan to visit Marie Ens at Place of Rescue and both Pastor Chantha and Bunthan were in awe and amazed at what they saw at Rescue. Chantha commented that in Svay Pak he often feels overwhelmed but stepping onto the grounds of Rescue it was so peaceful. He is right, God's presence and peace reigns in this place. They had a tour of all the different homes for AIDS patients, orphans, grannies and factory girls and of course Bunthan fell in love with all the little babies. One of the special treats for me was to see little baby Neang Rua. Last year, we had arranged for this little baby who was born with spina bifida to come to Rescue as her mother a prostitute could not afford to keep her and the doctors had told the mother to take her home and die. Now 1 year old, little Rua (which means life) is much bigger and has such a beautiful smile. Recently she had a rash in her hair and so unfortunately they had to shave her hair but as Marie said, she had the most beautiful smile. She is such a happy baby. No doubt the joy of the Lord is within her.
Sokhan, Marie, Chantha & Bunthan praying for each other's ministries

Before we left Place of Rescue, Marie, Sokhan, Pastor Chantha and Bunthan locked hands together and they began go pray for each other's ministries and for God's blessing upon both Svay Pak and Place of Rescue. It was a precious sight to see and we trust that God will use this new connection to provide a way for unwanted babies in Svay Pak to have a home---one that is prepared for them by their heavenly Father!

After our 1 hour pit stop at Place of Rescue, it was back to Svay Pak for lunch. We were running a bit late and Bunthan knowing that I was leaving soon apparently had made my favorite dish--Lok Lak. Little did I know someone told them it was my birthday (tomorrow) and when we got to Svay Pak, the kids were hanging out outside, the people who were waiting for the clinic were standing outside and all of Chantha's students were inside. They had been waiting for the last hour for us to arrive and had not eaten.
A surprise birthday 'cake' made of my two favorite fruits

At one point they told me a 'new chicken' was in town to keep me from going inside The Sanctuary but soon as I stepped in, I heard a loud 'Surprise' and they all began to sing Happy Birthday with these little firework sparkles. I started to cry as they began singing Jesus We Enthrone You. The 'birthday cake' was actually made up of two of my favorite fruit: Long Kong and Mangoosteen which they somehow managed to decorate with candles. They know me well as I don't particularly like cake but these fruits, I eat all the time. Each of the students came around giving me their own personal hand made cards. One of the most touching gift came later that afternoon when I was sitting at the medical clinic. One of my Vietnamese guitar students who I hadn't seen for a few weeks came back and I actually thought she was going up to one of the classrooms but instead she simply came by my side, said Happy Birthday and gave me a beautiful gift wrapped present with two cards written inside from her and another student saying 'God bless you'. Inside was a box of chocolates.

I am so humbled by the love that has been poured over me today and each day that I have been in Svay Pak through all the students and Chantha and Bunthan. These students have so little and some of them in their cards were so apologetic that they couldn't give me a'gift'. Little do they realize that their friendship is the gift that God has given to me. It will certainly go down as one of my most memorable birthdays with such a special bunch of friends who the Lord has given me such a love for. Indeed this was such a special day. Thank you Jesus!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Day of Walking

These past couple of days my back has been hurting. I think it has to do with the fact that I am sitting for long periods of time but I also believe it is a bit of a spiritual attack. So today I decided that I would spend more time standing and walking around to stretch out the back. When I arrived in Svay Pak, Sakhon from Place of Rescue was just leaving. She had met with Pastor Chantha, the mother and the baby who had AIDS. For now, they have asked the mother to take a bit more time to think about her decision although she still wants to give the baby up. So we'll see. Tomorrow Chantha, Bunthan and I will go to visit Place of Rescue so that Chantha can be able to see the ministry there.
Poster on a building warning about trafficking

Since I wanted to do a bit more walking today, Siny and I decided to just wander around some of the side streets of Svay Pak. We saw some old buildings that had posters in Vietnamese talking about how to recognize a trafficker and to warn parents to not sell their kids. Unfortunately its not really a deterrent.
Two female traffickers relaxing

For as we were walking toward the end of the street, Siny pointed out two female traffickers sitting and chatting. I was trying to figure out how to get a picture of them without them being suspicious so we had Pastor Chantha's 8 year old niece pose near them but they were onto us and cover their faces with their hats. It's funny how they know that we know what they are up to and their reaction to hide their faces is just another example of how those who live in the 'darkness' like to hide from the truth.
Old man who was partially healed from a stroke

Anyway after that little experience, we headed back to The Sanctuary and then after lunch Pastor Chantha took me for a walk to show me the other side of the village that is located on the Tonle Sap river. One of the first people we met was an old man who the church had been praying for as he had a stroke on the right side. God healed him partially and his face is no longer twisted to the same degree as before and he can lift his right hand up mid air. I took the opportunity to pray for him for God to do another miracle and to completely heal him.
Rows of Vietnamese homes - Trafficking Alley

From there we went on our walk passing some of the homes of Pastor Chantha's students and we ended up on a small street or alley where there were tons of houses that were located right next to the Tonle Sap river. The majority of the people who live here are predominantly Vietnamese but it is also a place where many trafficked girls from Vietnam come. I suppose one could call this area the 'trafficking central'. Everyone is focusing on Svay Pak, but I'm told this is where all the action really is. It is easy to see why, as the traffickers can bring the girls in boats from Vietnam and hide them here without anyone noticing. The people in this community are on the 'take' and so foreign pedophiles come here quite frequently in the evening to arrange a deal. One of Pastor Chantha's church members who lives in this area used to be a trafficker and since she became a believer she has been a key person in providing info on what happens here. However she has to keep a low profile as no doubt she would be a target for retaliation.

One of the people we went to visit was a lady called Roat. A few months ago her 9 year old daughter was raped by the next door neighbor---a 17 year old boy whose uncle is the priest in the Svay Pak Catholic church down the street from The Sanctuary. Roat's daughter 'SK' is now safely at the Newsong centre and apparently is doing quite well despite the horrible ordeal she went through. The 17 year old was arrested and is in jail but his family was not too pleased with this and so they began to harass SK's mother by first thrashing and destroying her home, stealing her pots and pans and then one of the 17 year old's relatives tried to kill her 10 year old son. But God is on the side of the widow and those who stand on the side of truth.

Roat's 10 year old son

Roat's house rebuilt by Chab Dai

One of Ratanak's partners Chab Dai heard about what had happened to Roat's house and they provided the funds to have her home rebuilt. An older man in the community came to her aid and helped her rebuild her home. Today I prayed over her house and with her and her son asking God to protect them and to bind the spirit of harassment and intimidation and to put a wall of fire around her home so that no one or nothing evil will be able to hurt her or create more fear. I prayed that He would send His holy angels to surround her and that just as the mountains surrounded Jerusalem so too He would watch over here. I also prayed that God would bring conviction upon the next door neighbors who have such hostility against her and that He would thwart any plan of theirs to further hurt or harass her. Pastor Chantha has gained much favor with the village chief in this particular community and so the village chief apparently has warned the 17 year old's family that if they persist in their hostile ways he will report them to the police and have them arrested.

Wooden shack where a 9 year old girl was raped
We left Roat's house and continued our walk bumping into some of the kids who come to the school and kids club at The Sanctuary. Pastor Chantha then showed me a wooden shack at the end of the street. It's empty but its a place where a 14 year old boy who used to go to the kids club raped a 9 year old girl about 2 months ago. The 14 year old is now in jail but the girl's parents did not want to send their daughter to the Newsong centre and have chosen to keep her home as they didn't want people to know what had happened to her. I can only imagine the trauma that little girl has experienced and it is sad that her parents are perpetuating that trauma by preventing her from going to a place where she can begin to heal. Pray for her that God would touch her broken heart and broken body and would somehow minister to her as she comes to terms with the violation against her body.
The 'alley' route to Hwy #5

After seeing the little wooden shack we turned a corner into a long alley way. This is the route that the foreign pedophiles take to visit this little community. One can certainly see why it provides a secure access for people to make a quick get a way without anyone noticing.

A new chicken
We headed back to the Sanctuary to relax and within 30 minutes our 4 young ex-pimping boys came running in asking for our cameras as a new chicken was in town. We sent them off to take pictures and then eventually Pastor Chantha and I decided to go and chat with him. He was sitting at one of the local restaurants so we went in and ordered a drink but he got up, paid his bill and left. We were left sitting there and at another table sat 3 female traffickers. Nonetheless, our young friends got a good frontal view of our latest chicken and it appears that he is on the 'watched list' so perhaps his days are numbered. So that was my day of walking!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New opportunities and close to death!

Chantha & Bunthan with 3 ladies from a church in Kampong Chnnang

This morning started off fairly quiet in Svay Pak with my usual guitar class routine but after lunch three ladies from Kampong Chnnang province had come by to visit Pastor Chantha and Bunthan. They have previously visited as they heard about the ministries in Svay Pak and had come again today to chat some more. Their church is without a pastor and they are wanting to learn more about the kids club that happens at The Sanctuary. It seems they have approximately 500 kids that they minister to and as their church has no 'shepherd' they were asking Chantha if he could help them. It's amazing how word gets out about Svay Pak! I asked them if they knew Pastor Sok & Savy Em---these are Cambodian missionaries from my church in Toronto who oversee the Tahas Bible Institute in Kampong Chnnang but they hadn't heard about him. Their church is located 30kms from Svay Pak so its not near. I was asking Pastor Chantha how he would go about ministering to them if God opened the door. His vision is to train up someone from here in Svay Pak to ultimately become the pastor there. He would oversee and visit the church once in a while and perhaps some of his students from Svay Pak could help with setting up a kids club at that location. However, there is much to pray about. For this door to be opened there is a need for transportation via a van or car to take the 'outreach team' there. Pastor Chantha's heart is ultimately to empower his students here to take over but in the interim he would likely be preaching there as well. We spent time praying with the 3 church members asking God to make a way where there seems to be no way. He knows their needs and as scripture reminds us that the eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him (2 Chronicals 16:9), we trust that He will strengthen and encourage these believers in Kampong Chnnang as they are seeking first His kingdom. Who could ever imagine that Svay Pak could potentially have a daughter church in another province but with each day here, God never ceases to amaze me with the 'new' things He is doing in and through the people who serve in The Sanctuary.

People waiting for the medical clinic to start

In the afternoon the medical clinic was packed with more new people. However it seemed that some people wanted to jump the queue. Some were wanting to pay some money (a bribe) in order to be first in line so that they wouldn't have to wait the whole afternoon for their turn. This is very Cambodian and is a way of life here. However, Bunthan would have none of it---in fact, she is one person you don't want to mess with as we have seen her lecture patients. Today, she was annoyed that people were trying to jump the queue and she began to speak very sternly to the entire crowd telling them that this is God's house and we treat everyone fairly. It's first come first serve and no one has an advantage. She went on to say that no money will ever be accepted and if people didn't want to wait for their turn then they could leave. There was a hush over the crowd. Of course no one left.
Pastor Chantha sharing the gospel

At that point, Pastor Chantha took the opportunity to share the gospel given that he had a captive audience and then the Passion of Christ DVD was played.

The Vietnamese Trafficker in the purple outfit

As I was helping out at the clinic, a Vietnamese trafficker that I had prayed over last week was back again. She comes to church here every Sunday but according to Bunthan she is always very difficult. You may recall she's the one I mentioned that would not look me straight in the eye when I was praying over her. Today she was once again her fiesty self pointing to medicines that she wanted. We were trying to get her to sit down when Bunthan yelled at her and that was enough to keep her quiet as we were able to diagnose the correct medicine to give to her. I took the opportunity again to pray over her asking God to do a miracle in her heart, to bind the demonic forces that were controlling her, to open her eyes and to prevent her from selling any more kids.

Well the clinic ended and a young lady with her 2 year old baby was sitting talking to Pastor Chantha. Her's is a sad story as we believe her husband died of AIDS. She didn't openly say that but just said he died suddenly of a disease. This is a very common way of sharing here as people are too embarrassed to share the real reason. Bridget Brewster was telling me of a story a while back where a girl came in to the clinic with pnemonia asking for medicines and a few days later died suddenly. They found out later that she was on the last leg as she was really dying of AIDS but did not tell anyone. The woman before us and her daughter appear to both have AIDS. She was sobbing and her little 2 year old daughter looked emaciated like one of those kids you would see in a concentration camp. As I was looking at her, her big eyes had no life. It was a blank stare and unlike other kids who would smile if you smile at them, this little girl was so stoic. She was expressionless. I looked down at her little arms and could see that she had all sorts of rashes and sores. Her mother also has the same problem and wants to give up her daughter as she cannot take care of her. We called Sokhan who is the Director of Place of Rescue that Marie Ens oversees. Sokhan will come tomorrow morning to talk to the mother and child and will likely take the little girl to Place of Rescue. We tried encouraging the mother that she could go with her daughter to Place of Rescue but at this point she doesn't want to go. I have to say seeing this little girl brought tears to my eyes. She seemed so sad, with no joy. It's as if she knew that something was not right with her body and that the end might be near. She reminded me of another little girl I had met in 2000 at Hagar Cambodia who also was affected with HIV. I got out my anointing oil, signed her with seal of the cross and just started praying over her, asking the Lord to do a miracle in her life. I know of other kids who have lived with HIV---one of them is Theary who is similar to the age of the little one I met today and even now at 7 years old Theary is thriving with the anti-retroviral drugs at Place of Rescue so I prayed that God would do the impossible for this little one whose life seems to be slowly slipping away.

I am thankful that Jesus is the only One who can breathe new life where there is no life, and through His resurrection power can restore this little girl. I am thankful for Marie, Sokhan and Place of Rescue for they seek to give dignity to those who are in the valley of the shadow of death. They provide a place of refuge, a place of peace and a place of comfort for these special ones whose lives hang on a thread.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Children: A gift of love

David & Goliath skit

Today at Kids club the kids were learning the story about David and Goliath. Chantha's students do a lot of role playing and acting out the bible stories through drama skits with props and the kids are thoroughly entertained as they listen attentively to the story being told. When 'David's slingshot was released and the stone hit 'Goliath' who ended up flat on his back the kids all stood up and cheered.

With each day as they hear different bible stories, we pray that God will be building His foundation in them so that in their time of need when they face their own Goliaths they will recall the boldness, courage and faith of David and the God whom He trusted to defeat the enemy and as such, they will be inspired to respond in the same manner.

Srey Lin

After the story time the kids either do a craft or they will color bible pictures. While I was walking around one little girl called Srey Lin about years 6 old who I had not noticed before grabbed my leg and so I decided to sit with her. She began to start kissing me on the cheeks a few times and literally crawling on me to be held and hugged.....this is a bit more affection than I am typically used to with the kids as most of them will just want a hug and then go on their merry way. I wasn't sure if she was simply starving for affection or was being too forward in her actions so I pointed to her drawing to encourage her to continue to color her picture. She quickly went back to doing that with one of her arms on my leg. I realized that she just wanted to have me nearby, almost like a comfort blanket. It may seem odd to be so cautious to these little ones but its hard to know which kids here have been exposed to abuse and which ones are just naturally longing for affection. At the end of the day, its all about being viewed and seen as a 'safe' person for these kids.


No sooner had Srey Lin continued her colouring, a little boy Bunteen who is 7 years old but is like a 4 year old broke away from the group of boys and plopped himself on my lap. I had held him last week and I guess he must have enjoyed the company for he seemed more interested in hanging onto me than participating in the songs. He proudly came to show me his drawing. Then there is little Tieng---she has chubby little cheeks and very small eyes. Each day when I see her she comes with open arms for a hug. She is like a little princess, always dressed so cute in a matching pants and top that is common attire for the Vietnamese kids, along with little pieces of jewelry. Today she had on a pearl necklace and a little gold ring. She too just wanted a little hug and stood next to me to show her bible picture.

All of these interactions involve limited verbal communication but for each of these kids even if I only speak one word to them telling them that their picture is beautiful or very good, their faces light up with a huge smile. They are no different to kids any where else longing to be affirmed and to be encouraged. Yet I suspect many of them don't have the opportunity to hear kind or tender words from their own families on a regular basis. But here in the Sanctuary, they are held, hugged and cared for with tender loving care and they are certainly blessed with words of life and love that no doubt draw them back each day. Interacting with them is like watching a little rose slowly blooming as they give love and affection so freely, displaying the splendor that God has bestowed within them.

While all that was happening at the Kids club, the last two mornings mothers have been coming by with their young children wanting to give them to Chantha and Bunthan. It is such an irony that the kids have so much love to give but the parents in this community seem to have so little love to offer. We are now up to 5 kids whose parents want to give them up. It seems that word has gotten out that Pastor Chantha and Bunthan are keeping baby Joshua and as such it has led to other families coming forward wanting to hand over their kids to them. This is just another example of how little kids are valued and viewed in this community. Children are either seen as a burden or a commodity to be sold rather than a gift from God, a treasured possession to be cherished. Pastor Chantha is thinking about preaching a sermon on the gift of children next Sunday. Pray that God will breakdown this ongoing stronghold in Svay Pak that causes parents to so easily reject and abandon their children.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Wedding Procession & Ratanak's Birthday!

Guests lining up for a wedding

The front of the wedding line

This morning as I was waiting outside my hotel at 7am for my tuk tuk driver to take me to Svay Pak, I noticed this long line of people all dressed up in formal attire. It turned out they were guests of a wedding that was about to happen and were assembling with the gifts they were bringing for the bride and groom. It was such a beautiful sight seeing some of the traditional Cambodian outfits that men and women wear but at the end of the line were even two chefs who were part of the procession displaying two large pig legs that I imagine will be part of the wedding feast!
The guests bringing their wedding gifts

The chefs displaying the food for the wedding!

Well today was my last Sunday in attending the service in Svay Pak (for this year) and as I sat listening to the students worshipping in some of the familiar Khmer songs that I have heard over these past couple of months, I couldn't help but imagine what it will be like even a year from now. So much has happened in just two short years when this church had started in Rahab's house with just Pastor Chantha, Bunthan and Ratanak. There were no students back them helping out. The church at the time numbered around 70 people. Yet today, the number of students being discipled by Pastor Chantha is now growing to around 30---two more recently asked if they could come and join the other students. The church has already grown out of the new space in The Sanctuary with approximately 450 people. But its not about the numbers, its about what God is doing in the hearts of people within Svay Pak as His Word goes forth each week. People are coming out of the darkness and stepping into His light as He opens their eyes and their hearts to the truth that He cares for them, He loves them and they can have a new life of hope in Him.

I have had the privilege during this time of seeing some of my guitar students progress to a level of playing that they can pick up English songs within minutes of hearing the tune and the words. That in itself is amazing as I am still trying to learn how to sing in Khmer for the past 6 weeks!
Paulie & Srey Lin (Back row)
Theary, Srey Nich and Malin (Front Row)

Today it was such a joy to see three of the students along with Paulie the worship leader singing and playing two songs: Jesus We Enthrone You in Khmer and a popular Chris Tomlin song---'Here I am to worship' in English. Just before they went on, I had spent time praying with them as they were quite nervous. It was a time of inviting God's peace to descend upon their nervous hearts and to remind that that it wasn't about them, it was about lifting the name of Christ high as they give their best to Him.' I am so proud of what they have accomplished and Srey Nich, one of the students said to me 'next year when you come we will have a special song to sing to you.' I can't wait to see what that will be especially since a U.S church gave money to buy a digital piano and another church had bought drums. Pastor Chantha hopes to have a worship band formed by his very own students over the next few months and given what I've seen, it wouldn't be long before God establishes gifted musicians from this group of students. They are all eager to learn, these are hungry worshippers and I wouldn't be surprised if they end up writing their own songs of praise!
Ratanak & Dary

'Some of the boys'
After service, we all went out to a restaurant called Tonle Bassac for an all you can eat Khmer luncheon buffet --- all for the cost of $5.00 per person. Today is Ratanak's birthday and he was totally surprised and didn't realize we were celebrating his birthday until he got into the restaurant and noticed the birthday cake and the 3o plus chairs with balloons attached to them. Perhaps the most meaningful time was just after he blew out his candles.
Some of the students

Ratanak about to pray

Some of the students handing him the birthday cards they made
In the West, the birthday person would say a few words but Ratanak is such a spiritual young man he simply said 'let's pray' and that we did as he prayed and gave thanks to God. Then one of by one each of the other students handed him hand made cards with personal write words of blessing for him. But that was not the end, Paulie led the group into singing Happy Birthday to Ratanak in both English and Khmer before they all broke out in a Khmer Christian song 'Arkun Preah Ong'---which means thank you Jesus. With over 30 of us singing, the entire restaurant stopped and looked at us. It was a wonderful time of celebration but perhaps the most touching moment was when I noticed Pi-Rha ( I blogged about her a couple days ago) collecting money from each of the students. I asked her what that was all about. It seemed that one of the students had his birthday 3 days ago but no one knew about it so she was collecting money from each of the students so they could buy him a birthday cake. These small actions speak to the bond of love that God is establishing and cultivating among and in the heart of the students. Their devotion to the Lord and His ways is reflected in how they support and encourage one another to ensure that no one is overlooked or ignored. How important such an attitude is in such a community as Svay Pak which for years has been forgotten and ignored.

Jesus said 'be faithful in the little things and I will entrust you with bigger things.' I can't help but think that these 'little acts' of love that I have witnessed while here are building a tsunami of love that will be poured out in greater measure over Svay Pak in the months and years to come!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Lazy Day!

Today is one of the few days I had to myself for the most part as with only one week left before I leave I spent the morning doing a bit of shopping at the Tuol Tompong market. I managed to finish all my purchases in just under two hours then headed back home to meet up with one of my missionary friend's Cathy who works with World Hope International---another NGO here that is the first stop for girls who are rescued directly from the brothels. Cathy and I headed over to Bloom Cafe to pick up a birthday cake for the youth pastor Ratanak who is turning 26 tomorrow.
Bloom Cafe

The cake is the 'flourescent green' one on the right hand side of the display. We are planning a surprise birthday celebration for him but with his sister's operation today there is a possibility that we may have to tell him about the surprise as he is thinking of skipping out on the lunch that we are having for him.
Sampling cup cakes from Bloom Cafe

We were only planning to stay a short time at Bloom but gave into our temptations to indulge in some of the mini cupcakes they sell at Bloom. I think I added a few pounds from that pitstop!

We then headed off to Svay Pak to drop the cake off. Cathy wanted to meet Pastor Chantha as she is hoping to bring a couple of short termers from Canada to visit Svay Pak next month. When we got there Pastor Chantha, his students and cell group leaders were having their weekly meeting where they each take turns sharing about some of the challenges within their small group. The meeting lasted about 2 hours and then they spend time praying over the issues.

Shortly after that meeting had ended another meeting was beginning with a group of young teenage girls who come to The Sanctuary every Saturday afternoon. They were attending a youth group meeting led by Dary (Ratanak's girlfriend). There is about 15 to 30 girls from the neighborhood who attend where they gather together for a worship time and then study the word of God. It is so encouraging to see how Pastor Chantha's students who have only been believers for barely one year are now investing and mentoring another group of youth slightly younger than themselves. This is the future generation of Svay Pak--- the ones that God is setting apart as His children. Pray for these young girls who are growing up in this environment that as the seeds of truth are planted in their hearts on a weekly basis that the word of God would fall on good soil, that God would water those seeds and He will raise up a whole new generation of girls in this community who will come to know Him as their Lord and Savior and who will discover their true value and worth in Him.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The students!

One of the advantages of coming here by myself without a team this year has been the opportunity to develop deeper heart to heart connections with people. I have valued the conversations I have had especially with pastor Chantha's students as they see me as 'bong srey' ---their older sister. Often they will call me aside to share something that is going on in their life asking my opinion or asking if I could pray for them. I appreciate these special times when we have no agenda and just hang out together. When we were at Sihanoukville that brief trip created time and space to go for walks along the beach chatting about all sorts of things. Many of them are in their late teens or early 20s and so the question about dating often comes up.
Ratanak & Dary
One couple that you can pray for is the youth pastor Ratanak and his girlfriend Dary who also oversees the school in the Sanctuary. She is like a school administrator. Pastor Chantha has encouraged them to get to know one another as friends as they serve the Lord together. Today Dary was worried about Ratanak as they are both studying for English exams that are set to start next Monday for 3 days. Unfortunately Ratanak's sister Chantoo has been quite sick and has to go for an operation to remove her appendicitis tomorrow in Phnom Penh. Dary wanted to know if I could talk to Ratanak and encourage him because the last couple of days he was not himself. He's been visiting his sister at the hospital and worried about her operation in addition to the fact that he has had no time to study for his exams. While I've been here their courtship has been a bit rocky for a variety of reasons and at times they have both come seeking counsel. It's been such a privilege to be able to speak into their issues and to spend time praying with them. This afternoon Ratanak and I spent time in my tuk-tuk praying as he poured out his heart about some of the things that have been heavy on his spirit.
Chitra & Pi-Rha (right)

Then there is Pi-Rah who is a young 19 year old teacher. She works mornings at an 'international' school nearby that some of the kids from Rahab's House attend. She is such a hard working student and teacher. The other day she was telling me her schedule---up by 5am for personal prayer time, devotions with the rest of the students, Don & Pastor Chantha at 6:30am at the Sanctuary, off to teach and then back at the Sanctuary around 12:30pm where she serves as a volunteer teacher like the rest of the students for the afternoon class from 1 to 2pm, then helping out at the kids club from 2 to 3:30pm, 5pm to 7pm personal time to prepare for next day's classes, 7pm to 9pm helping her mum at her food stall and finally from 9 to 11pm some more prayer time and personal bible reading. She was sharing her dream is to go to university next year and so she has been saving her money from her teaching job at the 'international
school' and recently she won some scholarships that will help pay the tuition fee for a portion of her first year. I admire her diligence. She has such little free time and when I asked her about her future, she says 'I just keep praying and asking Jesus to help me and to show me the way and to provide for my needs.'

Pi-Rha like many of the other students come from very impoverished backgrounds and their homes are what we would call little wooden shacks'---in North America you would hardly consider these 'shacks' to be livable but this is the squalor conditions of how many in 3rd world countries live. Yet, for Pi-Rha she has hope for a better future and at an age where most girls would be out spending their money she is mature enough to plan for her education. But Pi-Rha also is an encourager. Recently Paulie (one of the other girls I wrote about whose sister was trafficked and who herself has experiences multiple rapes) shared her story with Pi-Rha. Pi-Rha was so moved by Paulie's situation and recognized the fragility of her emotional state at times that she shared how she wants to stand with Paulie during this time where she is struggling with her pains.

One of the other student leaders that I have mentioned frequently is Siny. Siny is a bit older than the rest at 23 years old. In Cambodia that is considered 'old' especially since she is still single. Siny's heart is to be a missionary. She wants to reach out to those who work in the brick factories. In fact, one of Pastor Chantha and Bunthan's visions is to have a kids club for the kids whose parents work in the brick factories. Siny desire is to be part of the team that will be involved in that outreach. One day she could very well be the first missionary that God sends out from the Svay Pak church!

I love the heart of these students. They genuinely care for one another and the communities around them. They are opening up to each other about their pains and sufferings. Something that is not common in their parents generation nor is typical even in Cambodian culture. They are devoted to each other and are standing shoulder to shoulder, side by side sharing each others burdens and praying for one another. For a community that has seen much brokenness, this generation of students that God is raising up here in Svay Pak is not only seeking a better life for themselves but they desire to bless and encourage their brothers and sisters in Christ and the kids in this community and beyond. God is certainly doing a new thing in Svay Pak as He is depositing His missionary heart of love and compassion in these students.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Little Medical Clinic in Svay Pak

It was about 9:30 when I arrived in Svay Pak and sitting outside The Sanctuary was a handful of older women. I wondered what they were doing out there. It seems that many of them had come from other provinces. They had heard of the medical clinic in Svay Pak and had traveled long distances to get medical treatment. Some of these people had come from the provinces of Siem Reap (that's about a 5 to 6 hour car ride), Battambang (4 hours away), Prey Veng and Kampong Chan paying around $10 to $15 for their trip just to get free medicine. The staff here had asked them why they would spend that money since the medicine we are dispensing can be bought for considerably less than what they had paid for transport. Yet the word had gotten out about this little clinic that starts from 2pm and runs till 4pm on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and these folk had come so early to wait. Some of them had told the staff that the medicine their doctors had given them had not helped them but what they get from the clinic in Svay Pak did heal them . We may not be 'professional doctors' but God certainly has His hand and favor on this clinic.
Stopping a van to get its business phone number
Well no sooner had I arrived in Svay Pak, I was off again this morning back to Phnom Penh with Bunthan and Siny as we were going to the pharmacy store to pick up the medicines for the clinic. Enroute, I heard Siny (one of the student leaders) shouting to a mini-truck and they suddenly pulled over to the side of the road as our tuk-tuk stopped next to them. It seemed that she wanted to get their telephone number that was written on the side of the truck as they work for a telecom firm that sets up the internet. I can't imagine stopping a truck on one of our national highways back home to write their number down but here in Cambodia, people certainly operate on a more community level.
Picking up the medicines from the local pharmacy

We got to the pharmacy collected all our medicines and then headed to the local market called Orissey. This is where Cambodians usually shop. Just a couple of weeks ago, we got a pair of jeans for Bridget Brewster for US$3.00. Bunthan definetly knows how to shop for good deals. They asked if I wanted a pair but the thought of wearing tight jeans in 95 degree heat did not appeal to me. I need loose fitting clothing thank you! ;-) At any rate, we went to a particular stall that sells buttons and labels as the staff are looking to create a 'label' for the pillow cases made by the Newsong girls in Svay Pak.
By the time we got back to Svay Pak it was 12:30pm and the crowd had grown considerably more than when we left. People were vying for positions as they crowded around the 'in take' desk handled by one of Pastor Chantha's students.

Patients signing in for the medical clinic

Kids playing while they wait for the afternoon classes to start

In the midst of all this, the kids were starting to hang out on the ground floor waiting for school to start at 1pm. Some times you will find them sitting in circles playing a game with each other, while others are glued to the flat screen TV watching a show. It's so cute to see them all so eager to come to school way before the classes start. One would think the novelty would wear off after a few weeks but here, they wait just like the clinic patients and when its time for the classes they all charge up the stairs chasing one another into the 'hot' classrooms.

Some kids prefer to watch TV cartoons while waiting for the classes to start

As for the clinic, I continue to be in awe of how many people wait so patiently for many hours just to get access to the services in the clinic. We quickly had time to gobble down some food and decided to open up the clinic a bit earlier to accommodate the growing crowd. I actually am enjoying helping out at the clinic as you meet such a motley crew of people. As I scanned over to those who were there, I recognized a familiar face---one of the brothel owners from last week that I had prayed over---her face is like a bull dog---it really is---especially with her crew cut. I was so excited to see her and was hoping she could be one of my patients so I could pray again for her but she ended up being helped by one of the other Khmer colleagues.
Vichny - a teacher at the Newsong centre and my translator for today

Nonetheless, I did see many others, many of whom suffer from high blood pressure so we gave them medicine to control their pressure and also recommended they change their diet. One of the ladies I felt led to pray for and anoint was a 38 year old woman who has having bad headaches and stomach problems. It turns out that her husband while unemployed had an affair and left her and their young son for another woman. Since then she has been suffering quite a bit of stress thinking about her situation. Through my translator Vichny, one of the teachers at the Newsong Centre, I just encouraged her to give this burden over to Jesus and prayed that God would replace her anxiety by releasing His peace over her. I prayed that she would know how much she is loved by God and that despite the abandonment by her husband, she would experience her Heavenly Father's presence daily.

As I have spent time helping out at the medical clinic over these past few weeks, the real issues here seem to be more than physical, there really is a need for emotional and spiritual healing. It has been such a privilege to be able to pray for and pray over people trusting that the Lord will pour out His healing touch upon them and set them free from whether it is a physical, emotional or spiritual ailment. So as word gets out about this little clinic in Svay Pak, it is neat to know that people are coming here because of the good they are experiencing through the ministries at The Sanctuary. This is a small light that is starting to shine but we trust that God's light will shine even more brightly as He continues to transform hearts both near and far!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Confronting a New Chicken!

A new chicken!

It was just after lunch as Pastor Chantha, Bunthan, myself and some of the disciples were just sitting around chatting when a 'new chicken' came passing by The Sanctuary. He had stopped to take a photo and Pastor Chantha went out to chat with him and I grabbed my camera and joined him with some of the disciples at the entrance. Its strange but I think we all get excited when we see a 'new chicken.' Pastor Chantha told the 'new chicken' not to take any pictures of The Sanctuary but the 'new chicken' was a little annoyed and said 'he could take a picture if he wanted.' While its true, he was obviously not interested in respecting the wishes of Pastor Chantha and his tone was a bit condescending so of course, I couldn't help but jump in. I decided to be a bit more direct in my conversation with him asking him where he was from and why he was in Svay Pak? He replied that he was American but had been living in Vietnam for 2 years teaching (that is usually a cover that many pedophiles use to gain access to children and youth) and he had to leave to renew his visa. He heard about Svay Pak having a lot of Vietnamese and so he thought he would come by. How'd you like that for a story!

So I asked him which part of the U.S he was from but he said he had lived all over. I kept pressing him why he had come to Svay Pak in the middle of the day when it really was clearly not a tourist spot but he just said he heard about it and wanted to check it out. So I began to be a bit more direct and told him the only people who hear about Svay Pak are people who are coming to abuse children in the community. He wanted to know who Pastor Chantha and I were and I said we were here to protect the kids in this community from anyone who would want to hurt them. I also said to him that we were part of the 'anti-trafficking' group in this community and I suggested to him that he should leave as being a single white male, he would be labeled a pedophile and the police would be watching him and so would we. I asked him if he would let me take a picture but at that point he stormed off! I know that was a bit bold of me but I figured the worst he could say was 'no' but it was worth asking the question to see the response! As Pastor Chantha said, 'if he was not a pedophile he wouldn't have a problem having his picture taken' so we got one of our 'young teenage' boys (the ex-pimp) to go running after him to get a frontal view of the new chicken and praise God we got a decent shot. A few minutes later, we saw the 'new chicken' leave in his tuk-tuk.

I have to say I quite like having these direct conversations with the 'chickens'---instead of beating around the bush and being vague, its felt good to just be direct and confront him. In a way, it is exposing the darkness and evil intent of these men but more than that, it was nice to see him feeling a bit cornered, irritated, exposed and clearly frustrated. My prayer is that he would let his other 'chicken friends' know that they should avoid Svay Pak since its not what it used to be.

No doubt there are many pedophiles around and am sure many more will continue to drop into Svay Pak but nonetheless, just like we are called to seek justice one child at a time, in a similar vein, we are challenging these pedophiles one at a time. We pray that in doing so, more and more God will use these encounters to bring deep conviction in the hearts of these men and that where ever they go, they will feel so cornered and frustrated as God prevents them from fulfilling their destructive agenda against the vulnerable.